The barmaid puts a coaster down. I tell her to make me something pretty. Thirty secondslater a Tequila Sunrise appears.
Perfect, I smile.
The gray winter deadness had robbed everything of any spirit. It was nice to see some
Merry Christmas, she says.
You too, I reply. It takes me a couple of minutes to realize that besides me and the
barmaid, there’s only one other person in here: the dancer, alone in a red spotlight.
The construction job lays me off for the month. Typical winter plan for laborers.
At home, I rearrange the furniture. The living room hadn’t been used in years. It was
like a museum, old paintings, old furniture, old carpet.
I figure some of the rooms could use a facelift so I stop at the hardware store for paint.
On my way home I pull into Dunkin’ Donuts. On line is a guy named Jimmy I haven’t seen in
years. He grew up five houses away. After high school, he got married, had a son, and moved in
with his parents, who still lived in the neighborhood.
He’s a quarter short so I put down two dimes and a nickel. Henry, whatta you know, he
How’s it going, Jimmy.
You know, same old shit. He grabs his bag and we walk outside, over to his pest control
truck. Merry Christmas, he says, and then drives off.
I hadn’t stood that close to him since he beat me up in the boy’s bathroom for not helping
him on a science test. He even put a Swiss army knife to my cheek. The answer he wanted was
a guy’s name, where each letter stood for a color on the spectrum, or something like that.
RoyGBiv. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
I wondered if he even remembered that.
It was about the only thing I remembered from high school.
The weekend is cold, with thick snow clouds forming. The smell of fresh paint in the
house is inspiring. I get an idea and make another trip to the hardware store. I buy seven cans of
paint. At home, I retrieve the ladder from behind the house.
I start with a coat of red.
Six hours later, the job is complete.
The sound of the doorbell feels alien. Aside from Halloween, it was moribund.
Jimmy and his son stand on my stoop. His son, around 10, holds a hockey stick and
wears a goalie helmet, decorated with flames.
Have you flipped out, Jimmy asks.
What do you mean?
Your fucking house, man.
What about it.
It’s ugly, his son says.
Remember RoyGBiv, I say to Jimmy.
We have to live on this block.
I thought we could use some color around here.
I’m serious, Henry, paint your fucking house something normal.
I put the garbage cans at the curb as Jimmy’s son walks by with a couple of friends. It’s
been a week since they confronted me about the house. He’s an amorphous boy, and from the
way he spoke that day on my stoop, I could tell he was going to be a hell of a bully. He stares at
the house and tells me that his dad is going to be pissed. That’s between me and your dad, I say.
He walks away and calls back that his dad is going to kick my ass. His friends laugh.
The topless dancer at the bar says she used to have purple hair during her punk rock
stage. And she’s also Mensa. I don’t know much about Mensa types other than they’re
supposed to be very smart. Smart in what way I didn’t know. Her fiancée is also Mensa, she
tells me. It’s her third fiancée. I’m thinking that maybe being smart didn’t stop making you a
fool for love.
We do a shot of Jack Daniels and talk about DeNiro movies. I like the movie where he
played a priest, she says. I tell her it was True Confessions. Then I talk about the first DeNiro
movie I ever saw. He played a baseball player who died of cancer, and my mother happened to
be in the hospital at the time with cancer, and after watching the movie I threw my baseball
glove into the garbage can. My father wanted to have a catch with me one day, and I told him I
lost the glove, and he looked at me with such disappointment.
You’re sweet, she says and touches my cheek.
Can we have coffee sometime, I ask.
I’m getting married. Didn’t I tell you.
You’re silly, she says. Her words are slurred.
I watch her dance for a little while. Her movements are minimal. Guys slip dollar bills
into her G-string.
On the drive home, I think about my old glove. The last time I used it was in the Little
League Championship game. Jimmy was a teammate. We lost in the final inning when I
dropped the ball in right field. I needed glasses but didn’t know it at the time. Everyone walked
away to their parents’ cars without saying anything. Except Jimmy.
You suck, he yelled.
Whey I get home, my headlights expose something written on the driveway in giant
letters. The word asshole, in orange chalk. Probably Jimmy’s kid. I park the car in the street
and get out my seven paint cans. Two hours later the colorful driveway looks like something out
of The Wizard of Oz.
In the Spring, I get a job at Home Depot. The smell reminds me of the plumbing story
my father owned.
I unload trucks and offer customers advice about patio furniture and lawn mowers.
One afternoon Jimmy confronts me in the parking lot of Home Depot. It’s lunchtime and
he smells of beer. The neighbors are talking about you Henry, he says. They think you need
That’s none of their business.
Maybe you should think of moving. Isn’t that house too big for one person.
Think hard about it Henry. He lights a cigarette and walks away.
Kids play baseball in the street. I take a break from cleaning out the gardens and show
them how to line up their knuckles on the bat. My father had a tryout once for a semi-pro team
and passed that tip onto us when we were kids.
They’re playing two against two, self-hitting a softball. The white bases have faded over
the years. Our neighbor’s oldest son painted them when he came home from Vietnam. He’d sit
on the stoop and watch us for hours.
Maybe it was time to move on. I didn’t use most of the rooms in the house. I had a
cousin in California who worked as an extra in movies and invited me to live with him. He said
you stand around until someone with a bullhorn called for background noise, which was the cue
for the extras to begin their fake talking.
It wasn’t much in the way of celebrity, he’d said, but at least it was the movies.
One night, a crash wakes me up. I look out the window and see pieces of glass sparkling
under my driveway floodlights. There’s a hole in my windshield.
In the morning, I make coffee and walk outside. A brick sits on my front seat. There’s
some writing on the brick, in orange chalk. I think about calling the police. But then I figure
they wouldn’t understand RoyGBiv.
Over the next month there’s the occasional bit of vandalism. Turned over garbage cans, a
flat tire. Jimmy’s kid plays down the street with his friends. Street hockey, touch football.
Once, I drove by and saw orange chalk lines in the street, delineating sports boundaries. The kid
gave me his middle finger.
At the topless bar I ask about the dancer who was getting married, the DeNiro fan. The
barmaid tells me that they broke up. I leave my phone number with a note about going to a
movie. I’ll pass it along, she says.
The summer heats up and I take the pool cover off. I get the property in shape, green
grass, weeded gardens, pruned bushes. The RoyGBiv color scheme of the house appears to clash
with the natural colors of nature. But before you knew it, winter would be back, and you could
never have too much color anyway.
The roar of a car engine wakes me up one night.
My lawn is torn up by tire tracks.
Motherfucker, I say to nobody.
In the topless bar parking lot the Mensa dancer gets out of her car. I walk across the
gravel and say, hey, DeNiro fan, remember me. She smiles and says that she rented the movie I
told her about and it made her cry.
I wrote you a note, I say.
Yes, that was sweet, really, I’m sorry, I’m just not ready.
Is it because I’m a guy who goes to topless bars?
I met my last fiancee here.
If you find yourself engaged again, we’ve got some good stuff at Home Depot.
Any other movie recommendations?
Try Taxi Driver.
One night after work I’m talked into going to a bachelor party for one of the managers.
Since I don’t associate with many people I’m surprised to be included.
We eat at a steakhouse and then everyone decides to visit the topless bar.
When we arrive I see the Mensa woman dancing.
I stand by the droning Pac-Mac machine. The groom says he’s the happiest he’s ever
been and that his friends have arranged for him to fuck the dancer when she’s finished.
I leave my drink on the bar and go out to my car. A quiet August night.
The bachelor party group bounces out. They high-five each other and scatter to separate
cars. Twenty minutes later, the Mensa dancer walks out wearing a back pack.
She disappears behind the building. A minute later her car appears. I attempt to wave
her down but I’m too late. She pulls away and I stand there while the exhaust fills my nose, and
I get a perverse pleasure from it, pretending it’s a special kind of perfume, meant only for me.
One afternoon, on my way home from work, a detour on a side road sends me down a
street where a Little League baseball game is being played on my old elementary school
diamond. I decide to pull in and watch. It’s been years since I watched any kind of ballgame. I
take a seat on wooden bleachers.
Jimmy is coaching his son’s team.
He doesn’t notice me. I make a move to leave but his son, the pitcher, screams at the
shortstop who has dropped a pop up.
Stay calm, Jimmy yells, three more outs and the championship is ours.
I sit back down.
The kid gets two quick outs with strikeouts. Then the next two batters single. We can tie
this up, the coach of the other team yells.
Jimmy smokes a cigarette. His son winds up and delivers. The sound that the bat makes
with the ball is a fatal one if you happen to be cheering for Jimmy’s team. Catch it, his son
pleads to the sky, but the right fielder takes too many steps in and the ball is gone. Three runners
cross the plate.
In a span of about three seconds, the pitcher collides with his outfielder. Jimmy, cigarette
in mouth, does nothing to stop him.
I move down the bleachers and pick up a stray aluminum bat.
In the outfield, Jimmy’s kid is moving his chubby fist in piston-like precision up and
down on the boy’s nose.
You fucking suck, he yells over and over.
I line up my cold hands along the grip like my father once showed me and I swing it with
the kind of grace that would’ve made him proud.
Peter DeMarco teaches high school English and film in New York City. He was first
published in The New York Times when he wrote about hanging out with his idol, writer
Mickey Spillane. His short story “The Fireman” was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart
Prize. He was a 4th place finalist in the Bartleby Snopes Dialogue contest. Peter’s
stories have appeared online in Prime Number Magazine, decomP, Red Lightbulbs,
Monkeybicycle, SmokeLong Quarterly, Flashquake, Verbsap, Pindeldyboz,
Hippocampus, and Dogzplot. Peter’s debut novella, “Background Noise,” was recently
published by Pangea Books. Peter lives in New Jersey with his wife Charmaine, and